This week we review the Ranger, Wilderness Trail Bike's all-purpose Plus tire that can be had in either a 2.8-inch or 3.0-inch carcass, and in all three popular wheel diameters: 29, 27.5 and 26 inches. Its small tread blocks are pointy to help shed mud, and its flexible casing should make for a bump-smoothing, fast rolling tire. WTB says that, "the Ranger has taken the widest range of terrain and conditions into account, resulting in a tire that rolls fast, hooks up to all your local trails, willingly sheds mud and outdoes itself in both wet and dry." Meet the Ranger 27.5 x 2.8 TCS Light, High Grip Details:
• Purpose: all-condition trail and back-country touring
• Width: 2.8" or 3.0" (stated)
• Wheel size options: 26", 27.5" and 29"
• Suggested rim width: 30 to 45mm Plus widths
• Tubeless ready: Yes
• Configuration tested: TCS Light, High Grip, 27.5" x 2.8"
• Weight: 848 grams (actual)
• MSRP: $67.95 USD
• Contact: WTB
WTB has been cranking out new tire designs at a rate that suggests that the California design group is gunning for the likes of Maxxis and Schwalbe. It may take a while before WTB earns the title of, "the most blacked-out tire in World Cup DH and enduro competition," but they were founding members of the Plus bike movement and got a head start on a fresh trend that is presently the only growth market spurring sales of authentic mountain bikes. Innovative wheel and tire technology will be the keystones of Plus, and WTB's knowledge and experience could give them an advantage should Plus go mainstream, as some insiders predict it will.
WTB has a mind-numbing naming protocol, based upon casing stiffness and rubber compounds that would take a separate article to introduce, so all I'll say is: the Ranger tires tested here fit 27.5-inch rims, (preferably, 30- to 40-millimeters wide). The version we asked for was the smaller-option, 2.8-inch width, and the configuration sent to us was the TCS Light, High Grip, which means that it is tubeless-ready, it has the lighter of WTB's two casing options, and uses their grippiest rubber compound (Gravity DNA Rubber). Our Ranger tires weighed 854 grams and came with an MSRP of $67.95 USD.
The Ranger's voluminous, lightweight casing and minimal-looking tread pattern defies the current enduro-inspired trend, which embraces rigid, two-ply DH casings, topped with rows of large blocks of sticky, low-rebound rubber. Both, however, will get you stopped, accelerated, and around corners with remarkable speed and precision, but in entirely different ways. Enduro tires are like cat's claws, you force them deep into the soil, ripping and slashing your way around the trail using flashy power moves. The Ranger is like a soft Gecko's paw, lined with dozens of small grippers. The tire molds itself around the trail surface and grips tenaciously, with much less fanfare.
Riding the Rangers
The larger, softer casing spreads the weight of the bike and rider over a larger area, and thus cannot concentrate pressure on a large, single tread block like a DH tire is designed to do. So, WTB reduced the size of the Ranger's tread blocks and gave them pointy tops and sharp edges to help push them into the surface. WTB says that the smaller, pointed blocks also shed mud quite well - a ray of hope for anyone who has slogged uphill pushing Plus-width tires that were fouled by mud.
Rather than relying on one row of stiff edging blocks for traction, the Ranger's side tread becomes more concentrated to build up grip as the tire is leaned over. The row of edging blocks that WTB designed is well reinforced, and they protrude beyond the tire carcass (a necessity, it turns out) to encourage the tire to jump out of ruts - and to prevent it from slipping down the sidewall on steep, off-camber rocks and roots.
The crown tread of the Ranger is slightly raised, presumably, to reduce the contact patch slightly so it will roll faster on smooth or hard-pack surfaces. I'm not a fan of any tire with raised center ridges, because they usually give the ride quality a dull and less responsive feel, but such was not the case with these tires. The initial sense, after airing them up and checking for optimum pressure, was that they were fast rolling and more energetic than expected.
WTB's Ranger 2.8-inch Ranger Light, High Grips replaced a set of 2.8-inch Maxxis Ikon tires, which mirror the Ranger's key design points, with smaller, widely-spaced tread blocks and a lightweight, flexible carcass. The Maxxis Ikons were a disappointment from the outset - falling short on durability, rolling efficiency and cornering grip. The uncanny resemblance gave me good reason to expect that the Ranger would suffer the same fate.
The review got off to a promising start as the Rangers mounted up easily to Sun Ringle Duroc 40 rims. Plus tires are not very stiff, so getting tubeless tire beads to side up to 40-millimeter-width rims can become an inflationeer's headache. I used a Topeak Joe Blow Booster pump to air them up and Stan's Race Sealant to keep them that way. The WTB tires look much more aggressive when mounted up (if I dare use that term for Munchkin-size tread blocks), which also boosted my hopes for a good first ride. I began the review sessions with my default pressures for 2.8-inch tires: 14 psi up front and 18 in the rear. Later, I discovered that the Rangers rolled faster and were more stable in rough corners at 18 and 20 psi respectively.
One 50-minute lap on my home test course was enough to squelch any doubts that the Ranger might be a repeat performance of the previous tires. I was often pedaling a gear higher on the smoother hardpack segments, and the Intense ACV they were mounted to felt more energetic everywhere. On pavement, the raised center section made a dramatic improvement in reducing its rolling resistance. It pedaled like a good mountain bike should.
Plus bikes tend to have massive braking traction up front when descending steeply, while rear-wheel traction is often below norms - especially on bare rock. Here the WTB Ranger was better than most - probably assisted by its stickier DH rubber compound. It was no Schwalbe Magic Mary, but I never found reason to question its grip in the rear. Traction up front however, was foolishly abundant under braking, to the extent that I had to re-acquaint myself with my standard-tire trail bike to keep from washing the front tire on steeps and corner entries.
It actually did rain while testing, and to WTB's credit, the Rangers did not pack any more mud than your typical Maxxis Minion or High Roller II - less, if you factor in the reduced knob height, and they self cleaned quite well. The side blocks found grip on slippery rocks and off-camber trail segments that stymied previous plus tires, and the rain also created plenty of deep ruts with which to test the Ranger's edging abilities. later, after the ruts hardened up, I learned that I could trust the rangers to give me an out option when I needed to plant my wheels into the maw of a big one.
Saving the best for last, I was dutifully impressed by the Ranger's cornering grip, How those tiny teeth find grip is beyond reason, but they do - on shifty gravel, slick rock, silty stream beds, and everything in between , I can't speak for how well the Rangers could grip on drippy Northwestern tree roots, but they are well suited for Southwestern trails. I rarely hit a corner without thinking afterwards that I could have gone in a little harder, because when they broke traction, the bike would still be gripping hard enough to burn off speed - and then it would crank around the turn like nothing happened. They douse the persistent notion that all plus tires wobble under hard cornering and bounce all over the trail at speed. Evidently, those things don't occur when the pressures are right and the tire is matched to the correct rim width. Summing it All Up
As glowing a review as this was, WTB's 2.8-inch Rangers are not for everyone. I didn't slash a sidewall, but I would be remiss not to warn aggressive types that a sub-900 gram Plus tire is not going to hold up to Mach-2 descents through rock gardens with 20 psi or less standing between you and disaster. That said, they held up well, with only a few near misses evident on the sidewalls and not a single flat over two months of riding. On that note, as long as you don't skid them up, WTB's Rangers are quite durable. Mine still look good, but riders who haven't figured out the front brake thing could burn through a back tire in one day of hard riding. For all-out performance, I'd place them close to the top of the Plus pile. As an all 'rounder, it can't top Schwalbe's Nobby Nic 2.8-inch, but it certainly fulfills WTB's promise of an excellent all-condition trail and touring tire. Pinkbike's Take:
|WTB's Ranger Plus tire is designed to showcase the best aspects of the genre. It is lightweight enough to float effortlessly above trail chatter and grippier than a Velcro skin suit on a terrycloth water-slide. The Ranger offers an extra measure of control and confidence in nearly every trail situation that one would encounter between the borders of cross country racing and enduro competition. WTB gets it. While some tire makers are erroneously scaling up heavy enduro tires to Plus proportions, WTB's more comprehensive approach to mid-size tire design suggests that Plus bikes might be the beginning of a something new, rather than an evolutionary branch of the weather-beaten all-mountain tree. - RC|